In which Jora stomps on stuff, Kraglin gets punched in the face, and mutinous plots may be afoot.
The door to the Bridge shunts open and a body shunts out, nearly bowling Kraglin over. Kraglin dodges, arm scratching on a hidden knife-tip, and grabs the person by their elbows so they don’t smack into the wall. They wrench out of his grip. He makes sense of a garbled “Stay outta there, greenie, if you wanna live!” – then they’re off and away, scrambling for the safety of the lift.
Kraglin gapes after them. “Huh,” he says.
The door eases shut gradually. Kraglin pads closer, jabbing in a toe to prevent it from locking on. Then regrets it, as something shatters on the opposite side, and he jumps high enough to smack his skull on the frame. “Owfuck.” Luckily, his exclamation is drowned by a woman’s bellow:
“The fuck were you thinking, boy? Taking on the Nova Corps? If your bounty gets any higher, I’ll drop you off at the Kyln myself!” Kraglin shivers in his boots. That must be the captain – a voice that good at projecting itself can only belong to someone of comparable authority.
“Not like I had a choice, was it?” rages the target of her wrath. Kraglin, if possible, shrinks further. Udonta. “Perhaps if Dagada the goddam Detonator had given me some good fuckin’ intel for a change, I wouldn’ta had to fight my way out!” A pause. “And don’t call me boy!”
“Don’t you go blaming this on Dagada!” There’s another tinkling smash, followed by a dangerous rumble from Udonta. Kraglin, not sure who he’s supposed to be more afraid of, settles for being terrified of both. “You failed the mission, Udonta!” the captain continues. “You dropped the artifact in the middle of a Nova barracks! And then ya killed half of 'em and led the other half straight to us! Y’know we don’t mess with the Empires! The fuck’s the matter with you?”
Udonta’s repartee comes without a second’s reprieve – “That I trusted Dagada enough not to send me straight into a fuckin' ambush, that’s what! It was a set up, Jora. They knew we was coming for it.” His voice drops a register, still hoarse but quick and earnest. “Fuck, can’t ya see? Dagada’s after your favor. That’s what this is. You know it too – he’s always had his eye for the captaincy, and now you’re getting closer to kickin’ it –“
The smashes increase so much in frequency and violence that they cut Udonta off mid-flow.
Kraglin has to cover his ears. When the cacophony ceases, Udonta makes a noise in the back of his throat like he’s about to pick up where he left off – only to fall quiet as Captain Jora grinds fractured glass under her heel. The soft crunches become squeaks, then scratches, as whatever she’s stomping on is crushed to powder. Then, at long last, there is silence. It’s broken by Jora. Her voice is so dark that Kraglin’s bladder shrinks by a cubed inch.
“So that’s what you boys’ve been scuffling over.”
He can picture Udonta rolling his eyes. Oh shit. “What d’you expect? You ain’t getting no younger, Jora. I ain’t gonna sugar-coat it for ya.”
“That’s Captain. I ain’t dead yet. And if you’re so damn convinced –“ Another smash, “ – That I’m past it –“ Two more, skrsh crnch, and a strangled note of dismay from Udonta; what the hell is she breaking? “- How about you try a stint without my fuckin' favor instead? Walk a coupla miles in Dagada’s goddamn moccasins.” Or words to that effect.
Udonta sucks in a breath. Then pushes it out in a mocking snort. “Aw, you gonna demote me again? Over a bauble?”
“That bauble coulda brought in five thousand units! More than you’re worth to me, that’s for sure.”
A noisy scoff. “Yeah, yeah! Screw you too, captain.”
Jora’s tone darkens further. Kraglin has to cross his legs. “You’re lucky I don’t drag you to the brig and make a lesson of you in front of the crew.”
Don’t say it, Kraglin pleads. Don’t you fucking say it. Because Udonta’s sneering, he’s sure of it, and that doesn’t bode for anything good. Sure enough, he’s right.
“Y’know what?” Udonta says. “I don’t think you could if you tried.”
Oh shit. Kraglin did not sign up for this. Couldn’t he have picked the one Ravager galleon where there wasn’t a mutiny in the works? Or at least a first mate to sleep with who didn’t have a bigger deathwish than him? His ankles are borderline quaking, and he’s on the safe side of the door. He’d thought that the silence when he’d woken next to the man was bad, but the one that follows Udonta’s statement is of a different caliber altogether. This one simmers.
“You’re on Horuz’s ground team for the next job,” says Jora lowly, after a full festering minute measured by Udonta’s heavy breaths and Kraglin’s elevating sweat levels. “Ya follow his orders. Shoot where he points, sit up and beg when he tells ya to. And you don’t show your ugly mug on my Bridge until I give the say so. Understood?” There’s a huff of affirmation. “Right. And as a special treat, ya get to go to Dagada and notify him to take over first mate’s duties. For the foreseeable future." The huff is… rather more incendiary this time. Jora croaks out a laugh. “You ain’t got no one to blame but yourself. Hop to it, Udonta.”
Kraglin thinks that’ll be it. Kraglin prays that’ll be it. Kraglin is mistaken.
“Let’s say you do get offed in that period though,” Udonta begins. “Hypothetical-like. Or you croak in your bed, or whatever.” Kraglin has to resist the urge to bust down the door, storm across the room, and strangle him himself. “Who takes over?”
Jora’s snarl is bloodcurdling. “The. First. Mate. Now git, or it’s the brig.”
Udonta gits. A final smash of something delicate breaking over the doorframe sees him out. Kraglin sees the leg of the trinket, the one Udonta’d stepped on back at the bar, skitter across the floor and drop down a grate, never to be seen again. It’s followed, unfortunately, by Udonta himself.
He narrows his eyes at Kraglin who, having petrified at the sound of his approach, is nose-to-nose with him. The arrow’s in its sheathe. Kraglin sees him contemplate it. But Udonta takes in his frozen stare and his crusty crimson coating in two quick glances, one up and one down. Rather than quick and agonizing death, Kraglin’s treated to a full set of broken yellow teeth as Udonta growls – then he grabs him by the fucking Mohawk, ow, and yanks him along the corridor.
“The heck are you doing here, rookie?” he mutters. Kraglin swallows, bent double to compensate for the difference in their height as Udonta continues his attempts at scalping him. A Ravager squeezes by on the other side of the corridor, glancing at them with unbridled fear. Kraglin, willing to comply with any interrogation if Udonta will only let go of his hair, answers in a jumbled rush.
“Figs told me to find you, she said –“
“This about Varra?” Udonta, against all odds, laughs. The sound reverberates down his arm and shoots needles into Kraglin’s scalp. It doesn’t sound especially mirthful. “If this’s about Varra, yer the last person I wanna see right now.”
“Um, okay. If you let go of my hair, I can go –“
Udonta carries on as if he hasn’t heard. “You ain’t got no idea what’s going on here, do ya? No fucking clue.” There’s that laugh again. The next group of Ravagers they pass collectively cringe. So does Kraglin. “That must be nice.”
“It’s not, actually, I’m very confused, and my head really hurts, so –“
Udonta waves his free hand lazily through the air. “Look, I ain’t in the mood to be explaining things. Just know that Varra didn’t watch his mouth, and that you better be careful if you don’t wanna end up the same way.” Udonta isn’t in any position to lecture people on minding what they say, given what Kraglin’s just heard. It’s best not to voice that thought though.
“This about what happened on that satellite station?” he asks instead, squinting from under the handful of greasy hair in Udonta’s grip. His eyes are watering; he blinks the sting away. “Look, I said I weren’t gonna say nothing, and I meant it. That’s between you and me. It ain’t never gonna happen again, so if you can just forget it…”
“I forgot it the moment I closed the door,” Udonta snarls. Right. Of course. “Unfortunately for you and me, Varra didn’t.”
Ah. “You’re first mate,” Kraglin tries. “Who cares who ya fuck?”
“The person who was gonna be my first mate when I made captain.” Ah. “Look, it ain’t none of your business.”
Except for the fact that he’d been, well, as intimately involved as was possible. The pressure on his hair isn’t so agonizing now; Kraglin tests the slack and tentatively uses the extra inch to look at Udonta’s face. The man’s still striding along, but slow enough that Kraglin doesn’t have to stumble to keep up. His jaw’s clenched, and there’s a muscle ticking away under his eye like it’s keeping time.
“What happened?” Kraglin asks.
Udonta waits until they’ve come into an empty stretch of corridor, no more Ravagers to terrorize. Then he shoves him up against the wall and punches him in the face.
Kraglin’s nose squishes like it’s made of dough. Shit. There go his bonny good looks. “Fuck!” he tries to say – it comes out ‘fugk’, but he thinks he gets the gist across.
“He said,” says Udonta, teeth bared in Kraglin’s face, “that I shoulda killed you when I had the chance.”
Another punch – this delivered to the solar plexus. Kraglin bends around it, wheezing up spit. Blood gushes over his upper lip. “He said that if I didn’t do it, he would.”
That lunch they’d shared suddenly comes over as a lot more sinister. Thank fuck Kraglin’d spent his formative years scrambling through the gutters of a metropolis-planet; nothing accelerates your immunity development like wallowing in toxins day in and out. The next hit tenderizes his ribcage. Kraglin’s too busy trying to find a solid chunk of cartilage in his nasal ridge to realign to give more of a reaction than a pained hiss.
Udonta’s final words are delivered in a menacing rasp, close enough to his ear that Kraglin’s convinced he’s readying to take a bite out of it. “He said that if I didn’t step up and put an arrow through your dumb fuckin' skull, I was proving that I was too soft to be captain. And I’m wondering if he mighta been right.”
All Kraglin can taste is copper. All he can see is bloodstains and the worm-like blue arteries in Udonta’s throat. “If you shodt him jus’ for sayingk dat,” he burbles, “I dink you’b already proobed him wrong.”
Udonta’s head tilts in consideration. Breath lathes his earlobe, humid and dangerous. Whether he’s contemplating what’s been said, or is just trying to make sense of it, Kraglin has no idea. Fingers tighten on his lapels, leather creaking – fingers that could give the same treatment just as easily to his neck – and Kraglin expects the pummeling to resume any minute. But Udonta nods to himself, and steps back.
“Huh. Guess you’re right. Hadn’t thought of that.”
Kraglin warily straightens – and, when that movement isn’t met with violence, sets his jacket to rights. His nose, unfortunately, is beyond repair. “Habby to helb, sir…?”
Udonta’s expression becomes bemused. “’Sir’? Didn’t you hear the captain, greenie? I ain’t first mate no more. Just another grunt. Like you.”
Kraglin chooses to ignore that last part. “Yeah, but you’ll be bagk, won’d ya?”
It’s true. He doesn’t trust a guy like Udonta to stay down, no matter how low he’s kicked, and he’d rather be on his good side when the inevitable resurrection occurs. Speaking of kicking though – and grievous bodily harm in general…
Kraglin presses his hands over his ribcage and works on convincing his lungs that they don’t need to breathe so deeply. Damn, he’s gonna have bruises in the morning. And black eyes. Two of them, no doubt. Udonta punches hard. Udonta also notices the difficulties Kraglin’s having; there’s a flicker in his dark red eyes – all the warning Kraglin gets. Then Udonta grabs his head and tilts him roughly towards the light. Kraglin most certainly does not squeak. A red bubble expands out of his left nostril, glossy and trembling, then bursts over his concave septum.
Udonta clicks his tongue off the roof of his mouth. “Shaddup. Lemme see.” He uses his thumbs to angle Kraglin’s jaw from left to right.
There’s no arguing with that tone. Kraglin relaxes. Slowly. The panel above his head is chipped at one corner; bright light pours through, blinding compared to the off-white rays that percolate the dusty plastic screen around it. His eyes are watering like fountains on a Xandarian lawn, and Kraglin’s cheeks are so slippery with blood and saltwater that Udonta’s fingers slide until they’re almost gouging them. Udonta scrutinizes what’s left of his nose and rattles his throat like an angry snake. It’s an odd sound – Kraglin’s never heard anything quite like it, not outside of a Knowhere lizard-fighting ring. He’s certainly never heard it emanating from a Kree. But whatever it is, it’s not positive.
“How bab is id?” he asks, voice hoarse beneath the nasal wetness.
Udonta’s mouth thins. “Doc’ll be able to salvage most,” he says. “I think.” Kraglin waits expectantly. Udonta just blinks at him. There’s no hint of an impending apology. Of course; that’d be far too much to ask. Kraglin sniffs – then regrets it.
“I guess I’b bedder be off den.” There was an actual purpose to this visit however, and he’s not in the mood to be chewed out by Figs on top of suffering Udonta’s brand of tough-love. “Oh yeh. Varra. The footnodes: M-shib endgine. Whooshd. Chugked da body out da airlogk.”
Udonta nods. Like this is your average, everyday conversation between two pals. Kraglin wants to scream. “Alright rookie,” he says. “Go get that face fixed. I’ll put you on Horuz’s team – we can go over the shit with Varra then.”
So, to top everything off, he’s being assigned active duty. Whoopdee-fucking-do.
Kraglin comms Figs once he’s laying on a table in the cobbled-together medicenter that dominates the Eclector’s far left wing, head ringing from the moonshine that’s been poured down his throat in favor of painkillers – they save those for the named recruits, he figures. He leaves a message after the surly answering tone (“I’m asleep, fuckhead, try again in my day-cycle.”)
“Figs? You bet on a month for me, right?” He pauses, taking the opportunity to slurp air through his newly reconstructed nasal passages. It tastes like antiseptic and rust. “Figs, I think you’re gonna be rich.”